Fireman braves burning petrol station: “I’m no hero”

Published: May 30, 2007 | 6305th good news item since 2003

A fireman braved a burning petrol station forecourt and prevented disaster after a man flooded the area and covered an attendant in fuel.

Police yesterday praised the actions of deputy chief fire officer Dave Burford who stopped the blaze just as it was licking petrol bowsers.

A 34-year-old man was granted interim name suppression when he appeared in the Christchurch District Court today charged with arson, two counts of assault, and resisting arrest.

The incident closed the station for about two hours while police examined the scene.

Duty solicitor Shaun O’Neill told Judge Stephen Erber he would not apply for bail on instructions from the man’s family, but asked for interim name suppression so relatives could be informed.

The man, who is now subject to an in-patient order from the court, was remanded in the custody of Hillmorton Hospital without plea to reappear on May 31.

Burford said he was passing the petrol station on his way back to work when he heard an emergency call.

“There was a man standing in the forecourt with lots of petrol around him and he had a fire-starter. I immediately realised the implications,” he said.

“The police weren’t there yet, so I had to be quick.”

Burford said the ground was covered in petrol as bowsers had been used to flood the forecourt.

“He (the accused man) took a swing at me and missed. But then the fire started. It just went right across the forecourt. I grabbed an extinguisher and told them (station staff and customers) to get out of there.”

He then managed to put out the fire using four extinguishers.

“I was surprised how well it worked,” Burford said.

Police then arrived and arrested the man on the forecourt, he said.

Burford said it was fortunate it was an open forecourt, with plenty of fresh air.

“I was lucky it didn’t blow,” Burford said.

“There was just enough air around for it to just ignite.

“With the amount of petrol there, I realised it would be a big explosion,” he said.

“They don’t realise how dangerous it can be if a petrol station goes.”

However, Burford said he did not feel a hero, despite his actions. “I’m not. It’s just my job. I have been in the job for 37 years, and that is what I get paid for.”

Sergeant Steve Jones, of the Sydenham police, said the accused man was by himself and went into the store and spoke to attendants briefly.

“I don’t know what he was saying. It doesn’t sound like he’s had an altercation with them.”

The man left the store then started pumping petrol over the forecourt and over an attendant who was outside, Jones said.

“The attendant and other Caltex staff took off out the back door. They had shut the petrol off inside – I’m not sure at what stage.”

Police arrived on the scene minutes after the fire broke out, and Jones managed to capture the alleged offender.

“It was just so dangerous to everyone around.

“It had the potential to be a major fire – full credit for the fire chief.”

Caltex staff at the scene declined to comment.

In a statement, Chevron New Zealand marketing manager Nick Hannan praised the actions of a staff member at the petrol station.

“This is a very rare occurrence and the staff member was quick to follow Chevron safety and security procedures, which meant the situation was well contained,” he said.

The incident closed the station for about two hours as police conducted a scene examination.

Witness Julie Paul said she saw the man pouring petrol around the forecourt.

“Then I just saw flames, and smoke, and then it was out.

“It happened so fast.

“There were quite a few people there at the time.”

Paul ran across the road to the station and saw a policeman holding the man on the ground.

“He was fighting back and said `leave me alone’.

“I told him he was a bloody idiot because I was so angry. It was such a stupid thing to do.”

Another witness, Ken Schick, was with a friend about to drive into the petrol station when he saw the flames.

Schick said the thought of the station exploding did cross his mind: “It was almost touching the petrol bowsers.

“It could have exploded. It did go through my mind.” Schick said he saw police officers arrest the man.

The man had looked very agitated.

Published in Firefighters
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